Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Salt Works

She drives up the coast, tracing the trail
the pioneers took coming up from California
using the hard packed sand as their highway
until they reached Mount Neahkahnie,
whose cliffs plummet straight down to the sea.
There they were forced to haul their wagons up the steep slopes
with pulleys and ropes, perhaps pausing on the bluffs
to gaze back at where they’d come, admiring the view
just as she does now, parking by a stone wall 
overlooking the glittering Pacific.
Directly below, the waves ripple towards Manzanita,
where she has just come from, having stopped
to walk along the beach with her little mop of a dog
who after seventeen years she’s recently had to put down. 
He minces along the foamy hem of the surf, 
just like he used to when he was alive, chases 
the shade of a gull away from the feathery lump 
it had been clinging to. Now, high up on her vantage point, 
she reads a placard that outlines the history
of the Pacific Coast Highway, reminding travelers
of how resistant these parts have been to being tamed. 
She descends the other side of the once-sacred mountain,
swimming against the current of Tsunami Evacuation Route signs.
Stopping beside every historical marker she passes,
she learns about the various things which have washed up
on the Oregon shore: a cannon from a freighter chewed up
and spat from the mouth of the Columbia, 
a whale whose fatty hide fed the starving explorers. 
She’s heard that overgrown in the woods
there are empty machine gun nests still waiting
for the Japanese submarines to surface from the depths.
Curious, she follows the signs to the Salt Works,
which turns out to be nothing more than a rustic oven
cobbled together from stone and concrete
and surrounded by an iron fence to mark the site 
where Lewis and Clark's salt makers
lugged buckets of sea water to boil away to crust
so they could finally start preserving meat again.
Her ghost pup makes ghost piddle in the sand,
rolls around in a pile of pungent sea mess.

She scours the sand for shells but finds only shards.
They stroll along the concrete boardwalk,
where he yips hysterically at the whale skeleton
suspended in the window of the aquarium,
a cage for its own ponderous ghost.
Inside, she pays a dollar for a carton of sardine heads
to toss to the seals, who splash and roll 
their fat, sleek bodies through the water 
the way they always have, since before anyone 
was around to hunt them, and for the first time all Summer
she laughs at of their whiskered muzzles, 
their soft brown eyes. She snaps photo after photo
to look at when she’s back at home, alone
in the quiet apartment, where the leash 
she can’t quite bear to part with 
still dangles from the doorknob, 
its collar looped around the neck of a past 
that still scratches at the door, begging to be let out.

for Stacy and Oscar

1 comment:

  1. I see you've been to the beach again - very nice accounting, love the imagery of the dog, and the whale skeleton housing the whale's ghost - very nice...